Instant reaction: 6 theses on the climate politics of the Greek crisis

Courtesy of the Guardian liveblog. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Instant reaction: 6 theses on the climate politics of the Greek crisis #oxi #climate

  1. Those who consume a lot are prepared to slash the consumption of those who already consume less
    1. We already saw w the Volcker shock in the US that this could be waged from above, as a proxy class war, for a short period of time
    2. We now see how this austerity can be imposed indefinitely (or at least, this is what Eurozone elites are hoping to do PIGS countries, and especially Greece), pitting nations against each other
    3. Eco-apartheid is a real prospect, and the EU is not a firewall against it but, perhaps, its most likely champion
  2. Austerity can be imposed in and by liberal democracies—but not indefinitely. There are forces on the right and left who will challenge it, and they may succeed by banding together. They won’t necessarily care about carbon concentration in the atmosphere. Climate activists should be very careful to not line up behind austerity. (Just repeating “green jobs” a hundred times a week is not enough; when push comes to shove, the substance of outsiders’ economic plans will be subjected to ruthless scrutiny)
  3. Germany: One of the world’s most advanced countries, on the energy front, is also the most powerful enforcer of austerity in terms of economics. It is very much a model for future climate politics, but not an attractive one!
  4. By analogy, the European Union, with Germany its most powerful member, sends a similar message: pro carbon reductions, friendly to austerity, prepared to enforce intense internal stratification, and suffering, to keep the current elites in power. Note that Syriza is one of EU’s most progressive governments on the migrants question. European elites, on the other hand, have only awful news for future climate migrants
  5. If a version of the proposal that Tsipras and Varoufakis presented to the Eurogroup before the referendum—a leftist, redistributive austerity—is revived and implemented (maybe w promised debt restructuring), we’ll learn how viable a leftist austerity is in the absence of wartime mobilization. If EU and IMF elites were less caged in by their own rigid ideologies, more flexible in their self-interest, and more interested in the future of climate politics, they would have welcomed the Syriza left austerity proposal as an opportunity to experiment with this different model. If they were even smarter, they would have committed to invest EU structural funds into things like solar energy (and retrofits, etc) to revitalize Greece’s productive sector in a far-sighted way. I’m not saying that I support leftist austerity. But I would interested to see it in action. I hope I don’t have to
  6. Some mid-term lessons for climate activists:
    1. We must take economically populist positions and win by marching the democratic road, or the sacrifices we eventually demand (whether minor and sectoral or broad and sweeping) will have to be imposed by massive economic and political violence, and end up reinforcing criminal inequalities, or those sacrifices will be refused by other populist movements
    2. We need serious macro-economic thinking to make ideas like selective de-growth more than a slogan: how can the everyday economy of most people keep thriving even if long-strategic sectors like fossil fuels and the manufacture of polluting crap (fast fashion, “Secret Santa” gifts, etc) are wound down; the biggest liability of the leftist #oxi and especially #grexit camps in Greece is the lack of a real short- and mid-term plan to revive their economy if Greece ends up leaving the Eurozone
    3. Syriza rose in part out of disgust with austerity, but much of their credibility (rightly) came from being political outsiders, and hence the plausibility that they could tackle corruption (including of heavily concentrated private media) and shatter the oligarchy; climate politics are a politics of alignment; climate activists need to show that we’re not just against a few fossil fuel companies, but that we are credible partners of a coalition that will go after corruption and oligarchs (which exist in every country). We need to be ready to fight these other fights from the start.
    4. The Latin American pink tide was enabled by a boom in commodity exports, largely to China. It’s an extractivist model that’s bad for the climate, and bad for those economies. Greece can’t go down that road. Leaving aside questions of organization, culture, social movement structure, etc, Syriza could teach interesting lessons about the prospects of a mass leftist movement transforming society without plumping coffers with easy commodity export money. It could also be a laboratory for a clean energy start-up economy if its economic planners are clever and committed enough

(Sorry – too much rush for links)

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9 comments
  1. Very interesting piece, Daniel. You write: “If a version of the proposal that Tsipras and Varoufakis presented to the Eurogroup before the referendum—a leftist, redistributive austerity—is revived and implemented (maybe w promised debt restructuring), we’ll learn how viable a leftist austerity is in the absence of wartime mobilization.”

    Do you see wartime mobilization as a form of leftist austerity?

    I am the deputy director of the Climate Mobilization, which calls for wartime-style mobilization in response to climate change. I came to your piece from Common Dreams today and just saw that you are a member of our facebook group. How did you find us?

  2. Thanks Ezra. Most recently, I read about wartime mobilization in Stan Cox’s book about rationing, Any Way You Slice It. A must-read. WW2 mobilization seem to clearly be a case of austerity (eg, the monograph on Britain at the time, sitting on my desk, is called “Austerity in Britain). Cox argues forcefully that society only accepts rationing in extreme circumstances. But when it eventually does, it then insists on an *egalitarian* rationing. Left austerity. (See also the Orwell essay, “The Lion and the Unicorn”). And it’s true, left austerity *plus redistribution* is abundance for the poor and working class! In England and Wales, life expectancy during the 40s increased by almost seven years. The highest single-decade increase in the 20th century. I have more writing on this stuff coming out shortly. But the fact remains, no matter how much you dislike Merkel, she hasn’t bombed Pearl Harbor. Neither has the specter of future extreme weather. So the analogy between now and WW2, at least in terms of what residents of rich countries are prepared to sacrifice, is pretty troubled.

    I’m a friend of one of the Climate Mobilization’s founders and I support your efforts. I don’t think we’ve yet figured out a way to get people excited the kind of lifestyle massive carbon reductions requires, though I did write this piece as an effort to move that conversation along: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/10/seize-the-hamptons

    Cheers

  3. Hi Daniel!

    – Yes, I’ve started “Any Way You Slice It.” I think Stan’s prediction about rationing is starting to come true, as we are seeing in California. The key issue seems to be the need for “fair shares” rationing, not wildly unfair price-based rationing.

    – My understanding is the British Mobilization in WWII was a bit more austere than the U.S. one. It seems to me there are different ways to do a wartime mobilization.

    – No doubt, the WWII analogy is not perfect. We need to *non-violently* create the “Pearl Harbor moment” for climate change through a mass movement calling for Mobilization.

    – I will definitely check out the Orwell essay and your piece in Jacobin.

    – I take it you know Margaret? We founded it together, with my two roommates from my college, Ryan Brill and Ashik Siddique.

    Best,
    Ezra

  4. I do know Margaret. And maybe we can all get together and talk about rationing. And yeah, those are all good points, and I completely agree that rationing of goods is always implicit via prices/wages and should be as transparent and egalitarian as possible, especially w resources like energy, water, etc (eg, http://bit.ly/1I5H6R2).

  5. Michael has pushed us to include the job guarantee as a key policy in the Climate Mobilization. We think this is a good idea.

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